October 22, 2008


"Knitting as a Feminist Act"

by Jess Byron

Recently, I mentioned my knitting to a new acquaintance and his response surprised me. Instead of thinking it was an interesting, current hobby, he told me how nice it was that I can do something so traditional which few women are able to do anymore. To me, knitting has never been a traditional act, but something that has been completely my own while also providing a connection to others like my grandmother, who taught me how to knit. I would describe my grandmother as more of a feminist than most women, although I don’t believe I’ve ever heard her describe herself that way. She worked her whole life while raising her children, and at nearly 80 years old, she is still vibrant and active. I also don’t consider knitting to be traditional because it was never forced on me. Rather, it was something I wanted to learn, which prompted me to approach my grandmother at the age of eight.

Perhaps the reason why I see knitting as a feminist act instead of a traditional tool of the patriarchy is because of the women in my life who knit. For example, I once met a professor who designs sweaters and mittens to protest the war and support political causes. She takes her art in a different direction than most, but it expresses her sentiments and gains attention in a way that perhaps writing or speaking could not. She exposes her feelings, opinions, and beliefs through knitting and wearing sweaters as others choose political t-shirts. I also think about my roommate from college, a woman who would never be seen as traditionally feminine, but who loved knitting once I taught her how. She knit for herself and others in a fearless way that I love to see among knitters. She knew that with a little help she could do whatever projects she wanted, and she succeeded in a way that made me proud.

To me, knitting is not just a feminist act because of the women involved. Knitting can be viewed as an act of opting out of the system of patriarchy because it gives knitters complete control over their creations. It is not an act done to please men or make a profit (as most knitters know that would be nearly impossible), but is a way to take control of an important aspect of our lives - our clothing and the way we are perceived. To knit is to be taken seriously in a way that, for me, is different from anything else. Though my intellectual creations are not necessarily appreciated by the general public, when I am able to create something from a string and two sticks, people pay attention. They see that there is value in what I make to keep someone warm.

Feminism is not something I can separate from my knitting because both are a part of who I am and how I perceive myself. Both allow me to examine and reflect on my views as a human being and to express those views through words and actions or through fabric. When I knit I am able to opt out of patriarchy by asserting that I do not wish to have someone else decide what I should wear, what I should create, or what I should be. I am able to fully express my individuality through the creation of something unique. Even if 1,000 others have followed the same pattern, no one else will create it in exactly the same way that I do. In my view, that is the essence of feminism - speaking with a unique voice yet united behind a common goal.

Jess Byron is a first year graduate student in political science at The George Washington University. In her free time she enjoys knitting, reading, and activism. She is hoping to go into government work once she finishes her degree. She can be reached via e-mail.